#UsToo! Battles shaped by women of color often erase them
"When people hear 'black' they see men," Nelson said. "When they hear 'women' they see white women. No one sees black women." I'd go a step further and say many people don't see or hear women of color, period.
Now that everyone's #TimesUp Golden Globe black dresses are back from the cleaners, let's talk about what needs to happen next, and what should have been happening all along.
As imperfect and incomplete as the #MeToo movement has been — for starters, it took far too many beats for everyone to acknowledge that the woman who started it was Tarana Burke, a black activist from Philly — it did jump-start an overdue public reckoning of sexual harassment and abuse.
But it has also reinforced an unalienable truth many like to deny — namely, whose bodies — white women's — and whose voices — white women's — are valued.
You know what I'm talking about: racial discrimination, in the movement, the workplace, and the world.
"It's just as big, if not bigger," said Sophia Nelson, a lawyer, author, and political commentator who started the #UsToo hashtag in November in hopes of expanding the #MeToo conversation to include race.
In a tweet, Nelson invited everyone supporting #MeToo to support #UsToo, "which helps survivors share their horror stories about race, stereotypes, racial discrimination in the workplace."
To be clear, Nelson isn't anti #MeToo. She's calling attention to another layer of the movement by "giving voice to Americans of color who face often illegal, dehumanizing treatment in the workforce daily."
"Racism," she plainly said, "that has destroyed careers, lives, and finances."
(It's also cost businesses $64 billion a year, according to the Center for American Progress.
And while discrimination obviously affects men of color, women of color face discrimination on two fronts: gender and race.
"When people hear 'black,' they see men," Nelson said. "When they hear 'women,' they see white women.
"No one sees black women."
I'd go a step further and say many people don't see or hear women of color, period.
Just like the #MeToo movement, the responses to #UsToo have laid bare a reality most would rather downplay.
From Twitter user @CulturalNook: "Early on in my career, I walked in to my office where I was 1 of only 2 black female agents out of 150 ppl. I was asked by an older white woman if I was 'the help.' "
From @tashalyrics: "Repeatedly being asked if I am the court reporter while sitting next to other lawyers in court appropriate attire with ABSOLUTELY NO court reporter equipment anywhere near me."
From @vavoomburgoon: "I have been repeatedly told to 'calm down' or been accused of being 'angry' when delivering hard facts/examples in a poised and professional manner."
Call me Va. We could be friends.
Like the #MeToo movement, the responses showed how insidious racial discrimination can be, how discrimination isn't always an overt act to bring to human resources or equal opportunity commissions, but less conspicuous behavior that thrives in the subtle and ambiguous microaggressions and erasure of people of color.
As a friend recently put it, "It's a million little cuts." And the choice is often bleed to death or scar over.
Either way, it's painful and exhausting.
If it takes Hollywood for people to pay attention to discrimination, then we're in luck, because there's plenty of it there. In response to a fan asking her why she changed her name, actress Chloe Bennet, who stars in Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., recently said she changed her name from Chloe Wang because Hollywood is "racist," and she struggled to be cast in roles due to her surname. We may just be coming off of the 2018 #TimesUp Golden Globes, but we're hardly over #OscarsSoWhite.
An author of a diversity study on the film industry conducted by USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism put it bluntly: Hollywood doesn't just have a diversity problem. It has an inclusion crisis, Stacy L. Smith told NPR in 2016.
The crisis goes way beyond Hollywood.
We're heading into another round of women's marches across the country this weekend. Last year, I was at the march in Washington, where I pointed out the lack of diversity and inclusion and called on my sisters to do better.
This year, I'll witness it closer to home, in Philly. I'm not going to lie, I'm on the lookout for a turning point — for some confirmation that the battles shaped by women of color are actually going to include those women going forward.
In December, the Washington Post ran a story about 2017 turning out to be the unexpected (and inspiring) year of the woman that in many ways began with women all over the world taking to the streets in fierce female solidarity after Donald Trump's election.
May the movement continue.
But as we take to the streets, may we finally reckon with the truth that we will never truly persist until we fight equally for all women when we return to the true battlefields: our homes, offices, and cubicles.
True solidarity means fighting for all, not just those who look like the person staring back at you in the mirror.
See you out there, sisters!